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Sat., April 19, 2014, midnight

Editorial: Dueling gun-check initiatives only confuse

When two ballot initiatives cover the same subject, vexed voters usually say no to both. But early polling shows that, so far, voters are amenable to two gun control measures that would cancel each other out.

That’s right, two yes votes would mean no. Just as two no votes would mean no. So how do we get to yes? By passing one and turning down the other. Confused? Well, that might be by design.

Public education will be important, especially before the two campaigns bombard voters this summer with ads.

Initiative 594 would expand background checks for gun purchases to include private and online transactions. Some exceptions would exist for the transfer of weapons among family members and for sales of antique weapons. Under federal law, only sales at licensed gun shops trigger a background check. If the initiative passes, sellers would pay licensed dealers to conduct the checks.

Proponents of expanded background checks were unable to get a bill through the Legislature, despite broad public support. So they announced their signature-gathering bid in June 2013.

Soon after, a gun-rights group announced that it would gather signatures for what would become Initiative 591, a measure that would prohibit background checks that go beyond what the federal government requires. In practice, Initiative 594 would be snuffed out by this one.

“The best defense is offense,” said Alan Gottlieb, of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, who is the brains behind I-591. Instead of vigorous opposition to I-594, he started his own initiative. Upon announcing it, Gottlieb also said, “We’re giving the voters – who we think are very smart – an alternative.”

At this point, they seem more confused than anything.

An Elway Poll conducted last week found that 72 percent of voters favor I-594, while 55 percent favor the counteracting I-591. It gets stranger, because as The Spokesman Review reported, “Half of those who favored more extensive background checks said they would vote for I-591 and half who said background checks should be kept as they are now planned to vote for I-594.”

If voters don’t become more informed, they’ll be voting against their own wishes.

If both initiatives pass, the mess would have to be disentangled by the Legislature or the courts. It would serve the Legislature right, because it failed to pass a clear-cut bill when it had the chance. But we suspect the courts would have the dispute dumped into their lap. Neither option is satisfactory.

We’d prefer voters had a clear shot at adopting or rejecting expanded background checks, but it’s too late for that. I-594 would appear to have clear sailing, and it is the sensible choice. At present, a felon or mentally ill person who shouldn’t have a gun would be stopped at a gun shop. But they can easily arrange to buy a weapon online or through a private seller. The expanded background check would stop some of these purchases.

I-591 has less support, which we hope will weaken when voters understand that its purpose is to shoot down a more popular idea.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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